Sony Media Center PC Well-Suited for the Office

By Loyd Case  |  Posted 2004-10-04 Print this article Print

Sony's new media PC offers a high-performance CPU, middling graphics, and Intel's HD audio. It's billed as a Media Center PC, but may be better suited to the office than the living room.

When we heard that Sony was shipping a "liquid-cooled" PC, visions of pumps, hoses and thermal fluid danced in our heads. As it turns out, Sonys new VAIO RA-810G uses a more prosaic heat-pipe solution to cooling the 3.4GHz, Prescott-based Pentium 4 processor. We were also intrigued, however, because the RA-810G uses Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition as its operating system. Weve reviewed Media Center PCs in the past, including the Gateway FMC-901X and Dell 4600C. Alas, Gateway seems to have stopped shipping the FMC-901X, which was one of the better living room PCs weve encountered from a major OEM. Dell offers Windows Media Center edition now on most of its PCs, with the apparent exception of the trim 4600C.
Home theater PCs (HTPCs) are becoming less viable as time goes on, mainly due to the growing number of standalone DVRs and digital set-top boxes that will do the same thing and look better in the living room to boot. So this new Sony VAIO seems targeted squarely at home offices and dorm rooms, where a "do-everything" PC makes sense. Does Sonys Swiss Army Knife approach work? We take the 810G for a spin to find out. The new VAIOs chassis offers clean, spare lines, without much embellishment. Its most distinguishing feature from the outside is that it appears to be a small box atop a larger box, separated by a channel nearly large enough to pass an arm through.
Heres the VAIO RA-810Gs component inventory:
CPU Intel Pentium 4 Processor 550 3.40E GHz
Operating system Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition 2004
Motherboard chipset Intel 915P
Power Supply Delta 400W
Graphics card ATI Radeon X600 XT 128MB Video Memory
Memory 1GB PC-3200 400MHz DDR (expandable to 2.0GB)
Hard drive 250GB 7200rpm SATA
Optical drives DVD+R Double Layer / DVD+-RW Drive; and a DVD-ROM Drive with 16X DVD-ROM Read, 40X CD-ROM read
TV hardware 16x PCI Express Giga Pocket MPEG2 Realtime Encoder/Decoder board with TV Tuner
User input VAIO Keyboard / PS/2 Optical Mouse, IR Remote Control and Receiver / IR Blaster
Video inputs 2 S-Video (front and rear), composite video, coaxial
Video outputs VGA/DVI monitor port / TV-Out Port, S/PDIF Out
Audio processor Intel High Definition Audio
Speakers Stereo with subwoofer.
Additional I/O Seven USB 2.0 (three front/four rear, FireWire
Memory card support Memory Stick, Compact Flash Type I and Type II, and IBM Micro Drive
Software Giga Pocket (PVR), Click to DVD, SonicStage Mastering Studio, PictureGear Studio, Oxford Labs Studios, DVgate Plus (digital video), SonicStage (digital music), Adobe Premiere LE, Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0, VAIO Media network file sharing, Microsoft Works 7.0, and Quicken 2004
The top section holds the optical drives and power supplies. The lower section houses the motherboard, hard drive and expansion cards. The gap between upper and lower sections is real, but the top and bottom are connected via sturdy channels. In fact, its really a single case with a gimmicky pass-through rather than two discrete halves joined together. If you look inside the case, youll note that it looks more like a single unit that external appearance might suggest. To read the full review, click here. Check out eWEEK.coms Desktop & Notebook Center at for the latest news in desktop and notebook computing.
Loyd Case came to computing by way of physical chemistry. He began modestly on a DEC PDP-11 by learning the intricacies of the TROFF text formatter while working on his master's thesis. After a brief, painful stint as an analytical chemist, he took over a laboratory network at Lockheed in the early 80's and never looked back. His first 'real' computer was an HP 1000 RTE-6/VM system.

In 1988, he figured out that building his own PC was vastly more interesting than buying off-the-shelf systems ad he ditched his aging Compaq portable. The Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive from his first homebrew rig is still running today. Since then, he's done some programming, been a systems engineer for Hewlett-Packard, worked in technical marketing in the workstation biz, and even dabbled in 3-D modeling and Web design during the Web's early years.

Loyd was also bitten by the writing bug at a very early age, and even has dim memories of reading his creative efforts to his third grade class. Later, he wrote for various user group magazines, culminating in a near-career ending incident at his employer when a humor-impaired senior manager took exception at one of his more flippant efforts. In 1994, Loyd took on the task of writing the first roundup of PC graphics cards for Computer Gaming World -- the first ever written specifically for computer gamers. A year later, Mike Weksler, then tech editor at Computer Gaming World, twisted his arm and forced him to start writing CGW's tech column. The gaming world -- and Loyd -- has never quite recovered despite repeated efforts to find a normal job. Now he's busy with the whole fatherhood thing, working hard to turn his two daughters into avid gamers. When he doesn't have his head buried inside a PC, he dabbles in downhill skiing, military history and home theater.

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